Team Initiative Technical Paper by cshieyiez

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Team Initiative A Technical Overview
iNovem, March 2003

iNovem Ltd, Weston Court, Newbury Road, Weston Berkshire,RG20 8JE http://www.inovem.com info@inovem.com Tel: +44 (0) 1488 648468, Fax: +44 (0) 7092 115933

Executive Summary
Collaboration – communication, file sharing, involvement – has become a critical part of every organisation. Unfortunately, the technological reality is one of disparate, unintegrated systems that make it difficult to manage the knowledge and ensure people have access to all the information they need iNovem’s Team Initiative is designed to provide a solution that will integrate with your existing infrastructure in such a way that it addresses these issues and facilitates optimum team collaboration. It is an enterprise-level solution that enables effective communication between individuals and teams, manages the content they create, and provides administrative support to simplify operations. Team Initiative includes: • • • • • Email Calendar Document sharing Search Tasks • • • • Pictures Bookmarks Data store Vote

Team Initiative is robust, flexible, and scalable and designed to meet the requirements of modern enterprises challenged by reliable management of unstructured data. This document explains the technical background of the Team Initiative system, detailing the components that make up the system and their purpose. It goes on to detail some suggested deployment architectures and cover the scaling and clustering approaches that are built into Team Initiative.

Background
iNovem Team Initiative has been architected with three primary goals: •Scalability •Reliability •Security Scalability is highly important to the modern enterprise. Systems should be capable of growing with the company, both in terms of slow managed growth and sudden change, as is often the case in mergers and acquisitions. Team Initiative has been designed from the beginning to scale from a single server machine running all the components up to a system involving clustered components and distributed access from a worldwide basis. Scalability also requires reliability. Systems should be capable of dealing gracefully with errors, not stopping at the first sign of trouble. Additionally, it should be easy to separately monitor the presence and performance of each component of the system, in order that support staff can identify and deal with any errors or overload that does occur. Security is also highly important to the modern enterprise. The disadvantage of making it easy to find company information is that it also makes it easy for this information to fall into the wrong hands. Defined security lines were implemented right from the beginning of the Team Initiative design.

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These important goals were partly driven by iNovem’s experience of designing and running SmartGroups.com, the UK’s premier online community site. The SmartGroups system is capable of delivering over 2 million emails/day and half a million page impressions/day running on minimal hardware with low administration overheads. Scalability from a small start to major site in the space of a single year was achieved through careful planning. As the SmartGroups system was publicly available on the Internet it was constantly open to malicious Internet-based attacks, leading iNovem to develop sophisticated tools for real-time attack detection and prevention as well as writing secure web-delivered applications.

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System Architecture
The system is designed around seven system components, a database and a file store.
Mail Server

Mail List Manager

Outgoing Mail Sender

Java System ColdFusion

Thread Processor

Web server Collaboration Server - User Interface Collaboration Server - API File Server Database Server

Job Scheduling Engine Full Text Search Engine Image Scaling Processor
Figure 1: Team Initiative Architecture

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Web Server Components
The web server components run on Macromedia’s ColdFusion. The use of ColdFusion allows Team Initiative’s web components to be platform independent as well as using a tried and tested enterprise-class application server. There are two main parts to Team Initiative running in ColdFusion: • The User Interface (UI) layer • The Application Programming Interface (API) layer This abstraction between presentation (UI) and action (API) gives great benefits: The UI can easily be changed at many levels from the trivial (colours and logos) up to using a completely different interface model for the user, whilst still speaking in the same simple command terms to the API beneath it. The API is also available through a published XML interface over HTTP for third party applications. This allows simple “connector” processes to be written to integrate Team Initiative with other 3rd party applications. Imagine, for example, adding a piece of connector code that watches for new users in a central user repository, and automatically creates a new user within Team Initiative for them. This is a powerful approach allowing customers and partners to leverage the technology in contained with Team Initiative.

Mail Server & Mail List Manager
Team Initiative contains a custom written high performance mail engine, based on the Open Source Apache James project. The mail server’s job is to take incoming emails (emails to groups and commands) and route them as appropriate. When an email destined for a group arrives, the mail list manager will instantly send out the email to all the members of the group. The high-performance list management system also allows users to choose the format of emails they receive (text, HTML or untouched), manages attachment handling (stripping some types, has a sophisticated bounce-handling system, and also has built-in support for email-based moderation of user posts. This provides much more than “message copying”, ensuring that each member of the group gets the original message in the format they want and at the time they want.

Thread Processor
The Thread Processor takes incoming messages to the group, and calculates their threading information to be displayed on the web interface. Threading allows a message to be logically linked to the original message that it is replying to, thus providing a richer and more structured interface to the message. As opposed to just linking by common subject, Team Initiative threads based on standard Internet message headers, providing a unique linkage between related messages.

Full Text Search Server

Figure 2: Message Thread Display

Whilst much of the rudimentary search capabilities within Team Initiative come from SQL searches on the data stored within the database, this methodology is only suited towards short pieces of information.

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The Fulltext Search Server is built on the iNovem Full Text Search Engine (available as a separate product) and has been tightly integrated into Team Initiative. It provides a fully federated search system, indexing all the textual data stored in the Team Initiative. The items indexed by the Full Text Search include: •Messages to the group (indexed as plain text, or as HTML converted to plain text) •Group descriptions (Potentially long descriptive text about the group’s purpose / remit / project mission statement etc) •Files in the group file area, including text from MS Word files, plain text, and HTML documents. •Optionally the text from web pages linked in the bookmarks area. This flexible system allows multiple clients (web servers) to use the search system without having to worry about the underlying implementation. In terms of performance, the iNovem Fulltext Search Server has been used to index in excess of 10 million documents and still provide sub-second response times on search requests. The search server has a sophisticated self-healing index management system, allowing it to cope easily with indexing faults. The system maintains a mirrored pair of indexes, thus allowing for simple definite backup of the potentially large index files.

Image Processor
Team Initiative includes an image storage component for groups that allows the easy sharing of image related data. This is ideal for sharing information or records stored as camera pictures, generated images or diagrams. Team Initiative provides automatic thumbnails of any uploaded images, as well as the options to rotate the images and scale them to fit a standard browser window. The Image processor handles all such requests for image manipulation. The image processor is written in java in order to be easily portable across platforms, not requiring access to any separate software or image manipulation tools. Figure 3: Image based information

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Job Scheduling Engine
The Job Scheduling Engine drives the internal processes of the Team Initiative. Its cluster-based architecture allows the system to perform non-time-critical tasks asynchronously, freeing up valuable web server resources, in order to give a more timely response to users. It allows scheduled execution of tasks, with complex interrelationships between tasks, giving the system the ability to ensure important tasks are always done.

Database
The database stores all the control data required by the Team Initiative. This includes such things as the users’ information, group data and email headers. The email bodies can be large, so for performance reasons they are stored as files in the file store. All the database activities in Team Initiative have been audited to ensure optimal performance in all situations, and that no undue load is placed on the database. •Team Initiative is designed to be portable onto any of the major SQL database implementations (Oracle, Informix, MySQL, and MS SQL Server etc).

File Store
The file store is simply a network-based file system. It holds the mail bodies, logs and control files. The choice varies depending on server locations, number and platform. Options include: •Use of local disc on single server for small platforms •SMB / Windows File Sharing (Windows / Unix) •Network Attached Storage systems (using SMB for Windows / Unix) •NFS shared mount systems (Unix) •High Volume SAN (Storage Area Network) systems All information related to Team Initiative is stored on the fileserver – mail messages, files in the group file area, descriptions and images etc. This allows for easy central backup of the entire system by backup of the file store and database.

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Scaleable
Team Initiative is designed to be both horizontally and vertically scalable. This gives the customer the maximum number of deployment options as well as the knowledge that Team Initiative can grow with their business. The system is scalable from one server to many - additional servers can be added to address specific areas if a particular component becomes overloaded.
SINGLE MACHINE - LOW VOLUME CLUSTERED SYSTEM - VERY HIGH VOLUME

Remote UI Server Mail Server Cluster Web Server Cluster

UI

UI

UI

XML over HTTP

Mail Mail Mail

Hub

Team Initiative Server

Thread Processor

API

API

Search Server Job Engine Image Processor

Hub File Server Cluster
Data Files

Database Server Cluster

File Server

File Server

Database Server Database Server

Files

Files

Data

Data

Figure 4: Team Initiative Deployment Options

Mail Servers
As the system grows, it is simple to add new mail severs to cope with the extra growth in traffic. Adding additional mail servers can also add to the system’s resilience in the event of an individual mail server failing. Clustering of mail servers across the incoming mail stream can be provided by existing practices, such as round robin DNS, or third party load balancers.

Web Servers (UI and API)
Due to the split between the user interface components and the Application Layer components that perform the work (write to the database etc), it is possible to split the work of an overloaded web server in two: one machine to run the user interface and one to run the application interface. The other option is simply add more web servers as required by the load.

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Web server clustering can be provided by existing practices and web clustering technologies. UI servers can also be placed at remote points of a distributed WAN, serving local users and communicating with the main system over Team Initiative’s lightweight XML API protocol. The number of users supported from each web server varies depending on the machine’s specification. A single, large, high-end machine can easily support up to 25,000 users, or you can opt for a larger number of small low cost machines in order to gain the reliability benefits of clustering.

Server Processes
(Including the Search System, Thread Processor, Outgoing Mail Sender, Job Scheduler and Image Processor) The Team Initiative java components have been designed to accept multiple running instances, working on an equal load spread basis. These can be spread across multiple machines to improve resilience, with heartbeat systems watching log files and linking the processes together in the event of a failure.

Security
Application Access Control
Team Initiative has the concept of five levels of user permissions, relating to a user’s status within a group. Users may be one of the following: •Guests (Unauthenticated, no known account) •User (Authenticated, but not in this group) •Member (User with valid membership of this group) •Moderator (Member with special content modification rights within this group) •Manager (Member with special administration rights within this group) There is also the concept of an object’s “Owner” – the user that originally created the object, which provides allow even more flexibility. For example, modification of email messages is usually only allowed by managers, moderators and the message owner).

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Figure 5: Group Area Access Control

All access control within the system is based from these concepts, applying to visibility of objects, modification of objects and addition of new objects. Access control is managed and defaulted on several levels including: 1) Object level – setting the access control on a specific object 2) Group level – setting the default access for new objects by area 3) Site level – setting the default access for objects in all groups This infrastructure provides a fine level of control over defaults and objects, applied in a consistent manner throughout the system to aid easy understanding by the end user.

Auditing
All actions that change or create content within a group are audited into a group specific audit log. Group managers may inspect and search the log to find out who changed what content at what time. This allows for added control over the changing of content and monitoring of activity.

Authentication
Passwords are stored in the database using a standard one-way encryption algorithm. This encryption algorithm has been in the public domain for some time, and no reversals (methods for getting the clear password from the encrypted version) have appeared to date. Work is in progress to allow Team Initiative to work with LDAP compliant singlesign on services, such as Microsoft Active Directory and Novell eDirectory. This would allow users to have one set of logon credentials for all their network applications.

Web Security
Team Initiative’s security model is designed in at the lowest levels. All actions at the API level require a user and password, and a valid membership for the group in question. In this way, modification of the UI code or “faking” the UI’s HTML responses to the server will not allow unauthenticated or unauthorized actions to be performed.

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Important functions are often restricted to being manager-only, which is again enforced at the application layer. The same applies to XML API commands. This means that users cannot sidestep the system security in any way.

Administration Interface
Access to the Help Desk administration interface is strictly limited to a specific set of approved users whose role includes application management and user problem solving. Administration of sets of groups can be devolved through an organization if required. The system comes complete with a built in support and feedback email system for users who have problems or questions that cannot be answered by the online help. iNovem also strongly recommends the setting up of a “Users’ Forum” group within the system that your staff can use to ask questions on a peer-assistance basis. This has provedn highly beneficial in the past.

Traffic Encryption
Public network traffic from the system can be easily encrypted using existing technology. Remote extranet use of the web interface can be done using encrypted transmission (HTTPS) by the simple installation of an appropriate certificate for HTTPS on the web server. Users’ passwords will be authenticated over this link after the encryption has started ensuring full security. Similarly the mail engine already supports secured mail transmission (SMTP over TLS) where necessary. Transmission to those outside of the LAN may also take place over existing secured VPN channels without any changes.

Open standards
iNovem is committed to the use of open standards in all our products.

XML
The Team Initiative API uses XML Packet Exchange (over HTTP to an API Server). The XML conforms to all relevant standards, and complete documentation is available to clients detailing the grammar and commands available.

SMTP
The iNovem Mail Server / Mail List Manager support the following RFC’s 2: RFC821, RFC0974, RFC1652, RFC1830, RFC1869, RFC1870, RFC1891, RFC1893, RFC1985, RFC2034, RFC2197 & RFC2554. It has been tested as interoperable with all major mail packages.

Web delivery
The Team Initiative interface is delivered via a web browser. In order to enable the largest number of users to use Team Initiative the web page design allows a graceful degradation in features for older web browsers. Users of more modern browsers4 will, however, have a much richer experience when using the application.

2

Request For Comment – The Internet standards documentation set Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 and later, Netscape 6 and later, Opera 4.0 and later

4

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Due to the architecture of the API layer it is simple to write user interface layers for other browsing platforms, including off-line, PocketPC, WAP and iMode.

Summary
Effective collaboration is becoming more and more difficult as the amount of information increases together with the number of communication channels and the complexity of IT infrastructures. iNovem Team Initiative addresses these challenges by providing an integrated package of features designed to improve communication and the ability to find and share information. It can integrate with existing infrastructures and is robust and flexible enough to adapt to changing business needs. The component based design helps stability by providing clear breaks between different areas of server functionality. This allows Team Initiative to be easily scalable, both horizontally and vertically from a single machine running all the components to a selection of clustered subsystems. A range of third party applications and systems are supported for providing the database and file store back ends to the system. Additionally a fully featured API layer is included in Team Initiative to allow custom integration with other systems on the client’s site. Security and detailed access control are built in at all levels, providing safety for corporate data, but without making the control too complicated and too restrictive for end users.


								
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